The best things in life are free … kinda.

by Jim Cain

One of the most interesting things about working at Napkyn is that every discussion with a prospect or new customer is a fascinating one. The reason is that every serious owner of a web presence, whether is it a store, lead gen site, non-profit, or even blog is running analytics. Because these analytics tools are only 2% utilized, each discussion we have tends to be informative (for both sides), and interesting, aligning different reports with different unique business requirements.

While every business we talk to has individual needs, there are definitely questions that are pretty standard. A few of them have been discussed in the last posts, but today’s post deals with a biggie:

Should I use a free analytics tool, and which one should I pick?

This is a topic worth a book, not a blog post. In order to keep this interesting (and under 20,000 words), I am going to do two posts on the issue. This one will be on the biggest points to consider when examining free analytics tools, and the next will be a discussion and comparison of the ‘big two’ of Google and Yahoo’s analytics tools. (Before I start getting emails with suggestions of other tools that should have made the list, finish reading the post … explanation to follow.)

There are a few high level points that should be considered when thinking about free analytics tools:

They aren’t actually free: Any free or open source tools you use come with zero support. You have to do the integration yourself, you need to troubleshoot yourself, and you need to learn how to use the product yourself. This means you are going to end up paying a consultant or you are going to offset the direct cash spend with the indirect spend of the time of you and your team. It is for this reason alone that many firms choose a paid vendor, and is definitely something to consider when going the ‘free’ analytics route.

Additional Reads on this topic:
Why Web Analytics Tools Fail – Judah Phillips
Web Analytics Tool Selection – Avinash Kaushik

Just say no to log files: Without spending too many words on the issue, log file based analytics tools read what happens on your web server, require a lot of maintenance, and don’t deliver a lot of great data for the purposes of your average marketing question. If your current analytics tools is log file based, it is time for an upgrade.
(You will notice that each of the additional reads gives pros and cons to both page tagging and log files. I firmly believe that the disadvantages of log files completely outweigh the advantages, especially when you think about the advantages of doing ongoing analysis with the new breed of page tagging tools, feel free to comment with your two cents.)

Additional Reads on this topic:
Should I use Log Files or Tags? – SCL Analytics
Wikipedia Entry on Web Analytics Logfile vs Page Tag

Stick with the big boys: If you aren’t a fulltime analyst, or someone who is excited about being an early adopter of technology, don’t choose a tiny company for your web analytics. There are some really cool products out there (woopra for example), but as mentioned in the first point, you are going to be learning and doing a lot on your own. The bigger the user community you are a part of, and the bigger the company that you are working with (i.e. Google or Yahoo), the easier it will be to get ramped up.

Additional Reads on this topic:
Forrester Web Analytics Forecast: WASP Data – Stephane Hamel

Wikipedia Description of Early Adopter (if you qualify, feel free to disregard the big boys statement)

No plan, no value: This is one of the biggest issues we deal with when talking to companies that have been running analytics for years but don’t feel they are getting any value. Most firms know they need analytics, so do a basic deployment of a tool without thinking of the data needs of their business. This means that they aren’t able to ask good questions, or get good answers. Before you choose or deploy, think about what you want to accomplish, what questions you want to ask, and what reports you want to see. Remember also that your analytics tool should be reporting on every thing you do that affects your digital channel. Doing a lot of email? Track it in your analytics. Decided that twitter will grow your business? Track it in your analytics. Do 60% of your call center sales originate on the web? You get the point.

The next post will cover what we feel to be the two free analytics software options for companies that want to make to get into data driven decisionmaking. Google Analytics and Yahoo Analytics are both very valuable, and very different. Learning more about them will help understand the vendor landscape, and help make better decisions about building your digital analysis plan.



Jim Cain

Founder and CEO, Napkyn Analytics

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